8.21.2007

משנה מקום משנה מזל: Seeking davening, exercise, and learning buddy/buddies

The first part of this post's title, "משנה מקום משנה מזל," which means, "A change of place brings a change of luck," became known to me through the Israeli song, "Yo Ya," by the Israeli rock group Kaveret (כוורת). Here are the lyrics in Hebrew, and here are the lyrics in English and in transliterated Hebrew.

It is quite a clever, punny song, but the source for the phrase is, according to Hebrew Wikipedia, actually the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, 16b, where it says:

אמר רבי יצחק: ד' דברים מקרעין גזר דינו של אדם אלו הן: צדקה, צעקה, שינוי השם, ושינוי מעשה
....
ויש אומרים אף שינוי מקום דכתיב (בראשית יב) "ויאמר ה' אל אברם לך לך מארצך והדר ואעשך לגוי גדול" ואידך ההוא זכותא דארץ ישראל הוא דאהניא ליה

The rest of that piece of Talmud is kind of nice. Maybe I'll write about it some other time before Rosh Hashanah. The main point, though, is that one thing that can avert an evil decree is changing one's place, as proven by the verse from Genesis 12, where God commands Abram to leave the land where he grew up and go to a new place where he will become a great nation. (It seems, based on the verse and the explication that follows, like this "change of place averts evil decree" only works if you are going to the Land of Israel, but the Talmud seems to ignore that distinction. Perhaps I will look into this more.)

I don't entirely buy the idea that a chance of location can bring a change of luck, but I do think that anything that gives you a kick in the tush (preferably metaphorically) can be an impetus to change yourself. A change of place is neither necessary nor sufficient to change one's luck (and I don't really believe in luck, so let's replace luck with "predicament"), but it can help just as a lot of things can help. It helps if you really want to change something anyway--this inner desire to change things is certainly necessary and possibly sufficient to actually change. Like changing location, other things that are neither necessary nor sufficient to create change but can help prod you along, include: the start of the month of Elul (shouldn't we always try to do good deeds? yes!), the loss of a job or the start of a new job, the beginning of a new school year, or moving to a new place where your schedule is going to be different.

All of this is a long, roundabout way of saying that I do think that "משנה מקום משנה מזל" is possible, but would prefer to say that "A commitment to change, sparked by moving to a new place, can make it easier to bring about actual inner change." I'll grant you that the first is shorter, catchier, and easier to remember.

Why do I bring this up? Because Elul just started, I am moving to a new neighborhood this week, and there are a bunch of things that I would like to start/restart doing on a more regular basis. If I did these things, each of which I have independently previously proven myself capable of doing, my life would be much improved. Amongst them are: davening, exercising, and learning. I want to do these things without sacrificing: my professional work, my time with friends, my meals, or my sleep. Impossible? Maybe, but I hope not. I'm hoping I can accomplish all of this by sacrificing the monstrous category known as "time wastage."

I think that I would more likely to daven and exercise, in particular, if I did them every single morning and if I had people who expected to see me every morning for davening and exercise. Learning is a bit different, since I am open to doing that at night, with different people on different nights, and not every night, since I often learn Torah during the course of my day at work anyway, which more or less satisfies that particular need.

Why the need for a buddy? Is it because I am weak?

No, it is because I have followed the advice of the ancient Greek edict: "Know thyself."

I know that even though I profess to hate structure and schedules to the extent that I can't willfully impose them on myself (is this part of the fallout of years of day school attendance, wherein every single minute was carefully scheduled? perhaps), I do much better when I have them.

The only times in my life that I have successfully davened regularly have been when I have attended weekday minyan at least five times a week. Sometimes this has been shacharit; at other times it has been mincha/maariv. Every time I get tired of going to shul and promise myself that I will daven alone every day, I last for less than a week. Hence the need for regular minyan attendance.

As far as the davening buddy goes, going to minyan regularly has lasted the longest when there have been people at shul who I have looked forward to seeing who have looked forward to seeing me with whom I could exchange pleasantries with for five minutes after davening. This was a huge motivating factor for getting me to minyan, and thus davening regularly, for four years in college. This didn't work at all when I tried it on the Upper West Side, because no one acknowledged my presence in shul, nobody said as much as a "Thank you" when I held the door for them (him) after davening, and I felt intensely excluded from the convivial atmosphere that appeared to be the norm on the men's side of the mechitzah. Maybe I only imagined it. Maybe the men also felt like they were alone, and lonely, at shul. I have no idea. But I need minyan even if minyan doesn't need me.

It has been well-established that those who are most successful at exercising regularly are those who exercise at the same time every day, or however often you exercise. I have found this to be the case for me. I went to the gym regularly (2-3x/week for 6+ months) when my work schedule was such that I was out of there by 5:45 or 6 pm each night, and I went home, changed, and went straight to the gym for 1.5 hours before eating dinner. If I was hungry, I might grab something light to eat before the gym, but basically, it was work --> gym --> dinner. This schedule fell apart when I started at a new job where I got out at different times each night, and often not until 7 pm. I also exercised regularly for a whole semester in college, when I exercised first thing in the morning, before davening or anything else. It was really a great way to start my day. (Other practices of successful exercisers include exercising with someone else and doing something you actually enjoy. Also, exercising regularly over exercising for a long time if you're going to pick one of the two, and if you're at all busy, you probably are.)

Learning? That's easy. It's much more fun with someone else than alone. Learning with a chavruta is the original buddy system, long before elementary school teachers made their students pick a buddy for field trips so that no one would get lost. My gemara chavruta is going to be in Israel this year, so I'm looking for someone to learn gemara with. I am also looking for someone to learn halacha with, but only if you're willing to be particularly pedantic about it. Also open to other things, including Rav Kook's Orot HaTeshuva, which I started learning in 1999, I think, but never got very far in.

These three things--davening, exercising, learning--should also have the beneficial side effects of encouraging me to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, and getting to work at the same predictable, relatively early hour every morning. The times when I have been most successful at getting to work (or class) on time have also been the times that I have gone to minyan in the morning. I can't say much for being successful at going to sleep and getting up on time, since those have been a struggle for me pretty much from the get-go, but if I get up earlier, I will probably be more tired by the time a good time to sleep (11 pm) rolls around.

So, the general details for these buddies are:
  • I would prefer buddies who also think that the buddy system would work well for them, so that the needs would be more balanced, as opposed, you know, to some superhuman person who is intensely self-motivated and couldn't understand anyone who wasn't.
  • I could definitely have one shul buddy and a separate exercise buddy.
  • I would prefer to have the same davening buddy and the same exercise buddy for every weekday. Weekends off.
  • I don't care what gender you are.
Scheduling details:
  • I think I would probably go to shul in the morning, then go home to switch into exercise pants and eat something light/quick, and then exercise. I do wear pants to shul on principle and in practice, but I think that exercise pants might be lacking in kavod. They're too casual, even for super-casual me.
  • I don't ever expect to be able to go to minyan before 7 am, and even 7 am is stretching it. 7:30 am is ideal. If I could go to shul at 8:00 am and still exercise, shower, and get to work at a reasonable hour, I would, but I think that would probably not work. Maybe I could exercise and shower before shul and go straight to work from shul. That would be great, actually, although I might be really, really hungry by the time davening is over. I have to investigate local (Washington Heights) minyan times to see what will work.
  • I would like to be active for 30-40 minutes every morning.
Exercise details:
  • I exercise in t-shirts and non-legging pants (not tight but not baggy) that cover my knees if that makes a difference to you. I don't know why it would, but far less consequential things have been known to make a difference to people.
  • I would prefer to exercise somewhere close to my apartment, like the bike/running path near the Hudson or Fort Tryon Park. If there was a decent gym nearby, I would consider joining that also/instead. I am afraid to ask about local gyms on the Maalot Washington listserv since I might be lynched for admitting to exercising in the presence of men. (I am not opposed to women's gyms, but that hasn't been practical, thus far, in NYC.)
  • My exercise of choice is walking fast, running slowly, or biking if/when I purchase a bicycle. I am also open to learning to rollerblade, although given my historic lack of physical coordination, I don't know how likely that is. It sure looks like fun, though!
  • My fitness level is middling. I am not, nor have I ever been, a jock. I am an active person--for awhile I was walking 2-3 miles every single day, and I can do things like run up the stairs from the subway to the street without getting winded. I have worked up to being able to run for 20-30 minutes on a treadmill or 20 minutes outside, but not very quickly and starting out again, I don't think I could do more than run slowly for ten minutes. I don't want someone who is going to make fun of me for needing to go slow.
Learning details:
  • It's true that the Torah has 70 faces, but I'm pretty tired of Moed (did parts of Shabbat, Beitzah, Taanit, Pesachim, all of Rosh Hashanah), and most interested in Nashim at this point. I would definitely consider other sdarim/masechtot, though.
  • My level is "high for a typical Orthodox woman, low for an Orthodox man who spent time in yeshiva." I don't know how I measure up to the typical liberal Jew, which is why I stuck the word "Orthodox" in there.
  • I am most interested in learning with someone who is at about the same level as me, but that's not a prerequisite. In things other than Gemara, I am much less picky about the person's level.
  • In the past, I have learned out of a regular Vilna edition with Jastrow, Frank, and a Tanakh for reference. This is my preferred way of learning, with peeks into Steinsaltz (or asking a more well-versed person for help), if other assistance is needed.
  • I prefer to learn in the original language of the work, or in English if it was written in a language I don't know, like Arabic or Latin or German.
  • I own the first (i.e., least machmir) edition of Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchata (thanks to my grandfather, z"l), and I would love to learn hilchot Shabbat from it, looking up as many footnotes as possible (of course).
Let me know via e-mail if you want to buddy up for some or all of this. Thanks!

1 comment:

mama o' the matrices said...

if for noone else, 'm'shaneh makom, m'shaneh mazal' definitely works for kids. They're getting frazzled? Move them on to a new activity. Or, stop the activity and pull them in for a hug.

The ability to restart, to reset your system, your emotional state of being is not just for kids. Why should they get all the good stuff? I want a do-over, too.

And a hug.

good luck finding a buddy - I had a gym buddy for a couple of years, and it was great! (not to diss my chavrutas, but they never came with endorphins. Or virtuous, I earned it Aztec hot chocolates afterwards.)